From Sydney and Shanghai : Australian and Chinese women writing modernism
Carson, Susan J. (2009) From Sydney and Shanghai : Australian and Chinese women writing modernism. In Yao, Steven, Gilles , Mary Ann, & Sword, Helen (Eds.) Pacific Rim Modernism. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, pp. 173-198.
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In the 1930s and 1940s, Australian women writers published novels, poems, and short
stories that pushed the boundaries of their national literary culture. From their position in
the Pacific, they entered into a dialogue with a European modernism that they reworked
to invigorate their own writing and to make cross-continental connections. My interest in
the work of Australian women prose writers of this period stems from an appreciation of
the extent of their engagement with interwar modernism (an engagement that is generally
under-acknowledged) and the realization that there are commonalities of approach with
the ways in which contemporaneous Chinese authors negotiated this transnational
cultural traffic. China and Australia, it has been argued, share an imaginative and literal
association of many centuries, and this psychic history produces a situation in which
‘Australians feel drawn towards China: they cannot leave it alone.’1 Equally, Chinese
exploration of the great southern land began in the fifteenth century, prior to European
contact. In recent times, the intensity of Australia’s cultural and commercial connections
with Asia has led to a repositioning of the Australian sense of regionalism in general and,
in particular, has activated yet another stage in the history of its relationship with China.
In this context, the association of Australian and Chinese writing is instructive
because the commonalities of approach and areas of interest between certain authors
indicate that Australian writers were not alone in either the content or style of their
response to European modernism. This recognition, in turn, advances discussions of
modernism in Australia and reveals an alternative way of looking at the world from the
Pacific Rim through literature. The intent is to examine selective Australian and Chinese authors who are part of this continuous history and whose writing demonstrates common
thematic and stylistic features via the vector of modernism. I focus on the 1930s and
1940s because these are the decades in which Australia and China experienced wideranging
conflict in the Pacific, and it is significant that war, both forthcoming and actual,
features as an ominous soundtrack in the writing of Chinese and Australian women.
I argue that, given the immensity of cultural difference between Australia and
China, there is an especially interesting juncture in the ways in which the authors
interrogate modernist practices and the challenge of modernism. The process in which
writing from the Pacific Rim jointly negotiates the twin desires of engaging with
European literary form and representing one’s own culture may be seen as what Jessica
Berman identifies as a geomodernism, one of the ‘new possible geographies’ of
modernism.2 My discussion centres on the work of the Australian women, to which the
Chinese material serves as a point of reference, albeit a critical one. The Chinese writing
examined here is restricted to authors who wrote at least some material in English and
whose work is available in translation.
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|Item Type:||Book Chapter|
|Keywords:||australia , china, literature, modernism, comparative, pacific , rim|
|Subjects:||Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500)|
|Divisions:||Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty|
|Copyright Owner:||Copyright 2009 University of Toronto Press|
|Deposited On:||01 Apr 2010 09:36|
|Last Modified:||01 Mar 2012 00:08|
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